This is the first of a series of interviews GGN has recently completed with NFL Draft prospects. Evan Rodriguez is an h-back from Temple. He has lined up all over the place, from tight end to fullback to wide receiver. Last year he played the same role for head coach Steve Addazio that Aaron Hernandez played when Addazio was offensive coordinator at the University of Florida. He has 4.58 40 yard dash speed. He had a 36" vertical, 6.94 3-cone, 4.28 short shuttle, and 9'11 on broad jump at the Combine. He is expected to be selected in the mid to late rounds of the NFL Draft later this month.
Join me under the jump for my discussion with Evan about getting ready for the NFL Draft.
John B: What Combine drill did you find most challenging?
Evan Rodriguez: I'd say none of them. I was pretty much prepared for them all. I didn't find any of them to be too challenging.
JB: How did you train for the Combine?
ER: I trained hard in Bradenton at Lakewood Ranch at a place called Athletic Edge. I was with a couple of other guys down there. It was a small group, but I liked that small group because I got individual attention and was able to focus on some specific technique stuff instead of having a big group where that might not have been possible.
JB: Who did you train with?
ER: I trained with Kashif Moore (UConn wide receiver), Justin Francis (Rutgers defensive end), Desmond Wynn (Rutgers guard), Terrance Ganaway (Baylor running back), and Terrence Frederick (Texas A&M cornerback).
JB: At the Combine, what kinds of questions do you get when you speak with representatives from the various teams?
ER: Some teams ask random questions, but mainly they stick to the basics. They ask whether you have had any off field issues. They ask about how you grew up. They ask why you like football, what you can bring to the field for us, why we should pick you. They ask when you will graduate, or will you graduate.
JB: How do you feel about having so much of your future depend on one event, the Combine, which doesn't have you directly doing the things you normally do on the football field?
ER: I can't complain about the process. I think a lot of the drills are related to things you would do on the field. The vertical is what you do going up to catch a jump ball against a defensive back. Some drills test how fast you accelerate and how fast you change directions. They make you run routes to see how well you do that. In the 40, they see how fast you run. You aren't going to run your fastest that many times in a game, but you are going to need to break one eventually. They want to see whether you have breakaway speed. Now not every drill directly relates to football skill, but I think most of them do.
JB: You were a versatile guy in college. You moved around a bit, lining up at tight end, fullback, and wide receiver. What spot do you think best suits your skills?
ER: I think it's either as a receiving tight end or as a slot receiver. I can move around, though. You can stick me at fullback. I think I can do it all.
JB: What can you share with us about your college teammate Muhammad Wilkerson?
ER: Muhammad Wilkerson is a great guy. I keep in contact with Mo. He actually gave me advice before the Combine about the process. He and some other Temple guys who are in the league like Steve Maneri, Jaiquawn Jarrett,Terrance Knighton, and Andre Neblett.
JB: How did his advice help?
ER: It kept me from being left out in the air about what to expect. I had a visual view of what I was going to go through like meeting with a lot of teams. I was going to have to go through a whole lot of tests and meet with team doctors. Mainly, though, he told me to relax, be myself, and enjoy it because I only get to do this process once. It's overwhelmed, but you need to absorb it all and have fun.
JB: You had a new coach your last year at Temple who brought a new playbook. How much do you think having the experience of needing to learn a new playbook will help you in the NFL, where you will need to learn a new system again.
ER: Learning a new system isn't that hard. It's like being a student in the classroom. When you are in a new class, you need to adjust to the teacher. You need to take notes and put in the time to study. You can't slack. You have to keep after it until you master it, and you know your role. Watching film is a big key. If there was something I didn't understand, I watched the film and saw how they ran it. Then I understood it. Watching film on Florida, especially Aaron Hernandez, who played multiple positions and they used similarly in space helped me a lot.
JB: So you model your game after Hernandez?
ER: I would say so. We do a lot of the same things. He's not that big, but he makes plays. That's what I do as well. When I'm given the opportunity, I make plays. I take advantage of what I can get.
JB: Talk about some of the differences in route running depending on whether you start in the backfield vs. tight end vs. split wide.
ER: There really aren't many differences. I'll say when I'm lined up in the slot, I have a better visual of who is going to guard me and whether or not it is many coverage than when I am in the backfield. Also in the backfield I might have to sell a run first depending on the play call. If it's play action, I have to work off that. No matter where you line me up, I'm going to make a play happen, though.
JB: As somebody who has played with and against a lot of prospects, give me an insider's Draft sleeper.
ER: Kashif Moore from UConn. He's a wide receiver. He was my roommate training for the Combine. He's a great guy, and he works hard. We kept pushing each other. He had to keep up with me, and I had to keep up with him. He can jump out of the gym. His vertical was ridiculous at the Combine. He's fast too. He's just a freak. If you look at him, you can't believe how jacked up he is. He understands coaching. He was in a good program. Plus he's a Jersey boy. I have to talk up a Jersey boy. He's definitely a sleeper.
JB: Would you rather go to a Super Bowl contender where you didn't get much playing time, or a less successful team where you could play a lot right off the bat?
ER: It really doesn't matter where I'm at. Once I'm there, I know I'm going to be given the opportunity to prove myself and earn the respect of my teammates and coaches. It's been like that my whole life, even in college. I was at a top school. Then I transferred to Temple, and we had to turn the program around. I'm blessed to play the game that I love. I just need an opportunity. Once I get it, I'm going to take full advantage of it.
JB: What teams have you spoken with?
ER: I spoke with most of the 32 teams. I lost track at the Combine. Teams were grabbing you left and right. The Jets were one of them.
JB: Compare the NFL Draft process with being recruited by colleges.
ER: It's different. You're selling yourself in this process. Colleges were trying to sell their team to you. Now you're trying to sell yourself to a team. It's a learning experience, and I'm enjoying it. I have no regrets.
JB: What do you want to do once your football career is over?
ER: I'm hoping I'll be in the league at least 8 years, but once that's over, I'd like to get into coaching college kids or own my own business where I can relax. I will have my criminal justice degree. If I'm healthy, maybe I can do something in the criminal justice field.
Many thanks to Evan for speaking with me, and best of luck to him in the NFL Draft.